This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. I'm two days late posting – but I liked the prompt, it's timely, and it furthers a bloggy theme that has revealed itself this week.
Last week I had dinner with an old family friend from back home who, like me, picked up stakes and came to Toronto and has settled herself in the Beaches. There’s something about living near the water that seems right, I said, and she agreed.
She and I both grew up near the Detroit River, and it’s a waterway that features prominently in the essences of both Amherstburg and Windsor where I spent most of my life. When I left the area, I was given several pieces of art to remind me of home – two featuring ships on the Detroit River and a one of a great blue heron in the marshlands off Lake Erie.
In my last few years there I walked by the river many nights and I recall the change that came over me the instant I came off my street to the river’s side – inhaling the air affected every pore – it was electrifying. Since leaving Windsor I’ve hovered down near Lake Ontario as close as my budget would allow. Many people have asked me why I subject myself to such a long transit commute to my job on the north end of the city, and while there is certainly the “cool factor” of living right in one of this city’s marvellous neighbourhoods, the idea of being landlocked has always loomed when I considered where next to hang my hat.
And as one might generate from the previous couple of posts, the world of rivers and lakes has always had a place at our table by way of our sailor dad. Having a tug captain for a father was a novel thing to tell your friends – no one else’s father was a tug captain. It certainly wasn’t the happiest situation for him to go away for periods of time when we were small, but I think it’s probably one of the sources of the independence in my sisters and me; at the very least it’s attuned us to the sensibility of a sailor. That kind of life isn’t for everyone, but it was for my dad, his brothers, his father and generations before them.
Something else that has probably played a part on my gravitation to the watery side of things is the fact that a quarter of my bloodline features a whole bunch of islanders. Some of them came over from the Western Isles of Scotland to land themselves on the Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Aside from the hunk of land under their feet, water is the central thing to an islander’s existence. Many make their living on the water. They are aware of its gifts and its dangers – it is both life giving and perilous. And for islanders, it’s the road out.
The need to feel free is one of the fiercest desires in me – probably more of a burden than a boon. I always blamed it on having emerged from a bad marriage, but really, I’m thinking it goes much deeper than that. Being near the water somehow appeases that need for freedom – maybe there is some tiny gene way down somewhere in my body that is appeased by the sense that I’m always near the road out. Or maybe it's some random genetic link to some fisherman who once cast out his nets searching for the thing that will get him through the next day.
Maybe the water simply carries some internal symbolism of the grand search. It’s not such a bad thing, to be always searching – the idea that there’s something new around the corner is renewing. And renewing is better than stagnating.
So me and my inner fisherman will carry on with the nightly water walks and ponder the grand search. Or maybe we won't.
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I took these photos for my dad. When I told him where I would be moving in the Toronto harbour, he knew this ship, the Empire Sandy, was docked outside my door. And before I even walked down and had a look at her I knew that she is from Thunder Bay and that in another life she was a tug. You learn these kinds of things when you're the daughter of someone who has sustained an obsession with lake boats for 70 odd years.
I enjoyed the clear and subtly changing shades of the sky tonight. A perfect early summer evening to end a gorgeous Victoria Day long weekend.